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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Nankhumwa tells govt to stop collecting money from farmers in absence of AIP fertilizer




Fellow Malawians,


That this season’s Affordable Input Programme (AIP) has been jinxed with bigger problems is now a documented fact. No matter what the Minister of Agriculture, Sam Kawale and some of his cabinet colleagues say, the truth is that the AIP has collapsed and it is irredeemable.

We were told that the main goals of the AIP were to achieve food security, improve nutrition, and reduce poverty through further increasing the farmers’ access to improved production inputs.

It is obvious that this year’s AIP will have no impact at all on food security and poverty reduction in the country. It is a total failure. The simple explanation is that there is just no fertilizer for farmers to buy. Where there is little fertilizer available, it is only the basal NPK, which is available, while there is completely no top dressing Urea.

The design of AIP was such that each beneficiary household should buy two bags of fertilizer (one 50 kg bag of Urea and one 50 kg bag of NPK).

Recently, I said that old women are collapsing at SFFRFM AIP fertilizer selling points across the country due to fatigue and hunger after spending days on end with no bag of fertilizer in sight. This is, to say the least, inhuman and degrading to our farmers. The government cannot expect farmers to spend weeks at sales depots when they are supposed to be in their fields tending to their crops at this critical stage in their farming cycle.

The Minister of Agriculture recently claimed that his ministry is using mobile sales vehicles to distribute AIP fertilizer and that farmers should not crowd sales depots as they risk missing the mobile sales vehicles that would go right into villages. The truth of the matter is that the mobile trucks are either not there or they are too few to make any significant contribution.

The other challenge has to do with the process of scanning National IDs of beneficiary farmers for them to redeem their inputs. Apart from network challenges, the gadgets used to scan the IDs are very few compared to the demand on the ground. For example, some districts have to do with as few as 12 gadgets for the entire district, which makes a mockery of the whole programme.

Fellow Malawians,

I am also aware that the Seed Trade Association of Malawi (STAM) recently wrote the Ministry of Agriculture pertaining to the status of the AIP sales seed portal. They are concerned that the seed portal stopped working on January 7, 2023 with Minister of Agriculture claiming that it is being upgraded and yet AIP program will close on January 31, 2023.

Following the shutdown of the seed portal, about 800,000 farmers have not redeemed certified seed. The time is running out for farmers to access the seed. The AIP does not get worse than this. I fully agree with STAM that the decision to dysfunction the system at this critical time, for whatever reason, is a recipe for food insecurity. The Ministry of Agriculture must rectify this problem expeditiously before the end of the AIP programme so that even though the planting time is over, some farmers can still redeem the cheap seeds for winter crop production.


Fellow Malawians ,

Now, as if this AIP mess is not enough, I have been reliably informed that the Tonse Alliance government, through its agents, is currently going village by village collecting money for AIP fertilizer from farmers whilst promising to give them fertilizer at a later date.

This is unprecedented in the history of fertilizer subsidy programme in this country, and it is just plain wrong. Why should the government take money from poor farmers without giving them the commodity when the rains are already here, and they are already late in applying the fertilizer in their fields? This is very shocking and a wrong approach by President Lazarus Chakwera and his Tonse Alliance government.

Already, the hunger situation among many households has reached alarming proportions. It is, therefore, abhorrent for the government to demand money upfront from poor farmers, amounting to K30, 000, and never give them the required commodity that they desperately need for crop production.

Fellow Malawians,

For a long time, we have been told that the government is working to purge out middlemen from the AIP system. Why is the same government now behaving like the same middleman it wanted to remove? The government should have just come in the open to confirm what we already know – AIP has crashed this season, and apologize to Malawians because what is happening now is pure stealing from poor, helpless and innocent farmers.

The Tonse Alliance government terminated the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) and replaced it with the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP). The budget was increased almost four times higher than its predecessor, and we were told that the programme would benefit 4.2 million farming households in the country. When President Chakwera launched this season’s AIP in November 2022 in Dedza, we were informed that the Ministry of Agriculture and district councils had identified and registered 2.5 million farming households earmarked for the programme.

Fellow Malawians,

I would like to believe that the objective of AIP is to allow Malawian subsistence farmers to purchase farm inputs at a subsidized cost. However, one may also agree that less than half that number have actually benefited from AIP this year, and that the so-called increased number of beneficiaries was just on paper.

Now the question, is why did this government terminate FISP, and why lie to Malawians that the number of beneficiaries has increased when the numbers on the ground are telling a different story? Was there no proper plan, or was it just for political expediency?

The Minister of Agriculture, Sam Kawale, and Minister of Information Gospel Kazako have been providing updates assuring the nation and beneficiaries that all is well and there is no need to panic as the programme is progressing according to plans after addressing initial bottlenecks. The million dollar question now is why is the government taking money from farmers with a promise to deliver the fertilizer later? Is this also according to plan?


Fellow Malawians,

As Leader of Opposition in Parliament, I demand that the government should immediately pay back the money that it has collected from farmers without giving them fertilizer. I am giving President Chakwera and his government until Friday next week, January 27, 2023 to return the money to the concerned farmers. Should this not happen, I will have no choice but other than seeking guidance on the way forward from legal and governance institutions, including the Malawi Law Society (MLS), Malawi Human Rights Commission, Malawi Legal Aid, Office of Ombudsman, among others.

The Tonse Alliance government must accept that it has failed Malawians than resorting to pure theft under the guise of AIP.

Right Honourable Dr. Kondwani Nankhumwa, MP


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